KEY LARGO -- Those interesting in learning about coral reefs will soon get their chance as a nonprofit organization is opening an education center at 5 Seagate Blvd.
The Coral Restoration Foundation is leasing the space from its neighbor, Pilot House Marina, Restaurant and Glass Bottom Bar, at a discounted rate to help draw locals and tourists off the Overseas Highway.
The purpose of the center is to provide people with information about coral reefs and their importance to our ecosystem, said Ken Nedimeyer, the foundation's president.
The non-profit conservation organization was created to grow coral in underwater nurseries and support other reef restoration programs.
"People can take 30 minutes at the center or up to an hour," Nedimeyer said, depending on how much information they decide to read.
Nedimeyer said the center will have a small area to purchase gift shop-related items and a donation box will also be available.
"We're not going to hound people at the door, but donations will be accepted at the center," he said.
The education center will also serve as a visitor's center and be geared toward out-of-towners, he explained.
"But we can't do it without the locals," he said. "The whole world is watching our community and what we do with the reef."
The new space will also house classrooms that will serve as a launching point for students who visit from outside the area. Instruction will prepare them for diving at the coral nurseries off Key Largo.
Before adding the new center, the only location the foundation had was a storage warehouse for diving gear.
Nedimeyer stressed that the foundation offers many opportunities for locals who wish to support reef restoration.
"People can help without investing their money," he said.
Eventually, the goal for the center is to offer regular hands-on classes and other interactive events for visitors.
The center's grand opening is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1. Attendees will receive discounts at the Pilot House. Drinks and snacks are also available and raffles are in the works, Nedimeyer said.